The Longest Day – day 7

Sunday. Newbury to Hyde Park. 112km via Greenham Peace Garden, Reading Consumer Temple, Windsor (ma’am, your government is shite) and a very bumpy and long towpath.

Featuring a moment of deep serenity in the morning and flying blind all afternoon.

A failure of navigation systems in the afternoon means that the tracklog from just after Reading is not available – essentially we followed the B3024 to Windsor, and then crossed the river up Eton High St and wiggled to the east of slough to hit the Grand Union Canal and followed that to Paddington basin.

Most of the group at Greenham – a couple not in the photo and 3 waiting for us a few miles further down the road having been billeted at Thatcham for the night.

The morning started well – albeit somewhat later leaving the Bacon Arms than intended for the short ride South and round the bottom of the old Greenham Cruise Missile base to the Greenham Peace Garden on the site of the Women’s Peace Camp 1981-2000.

We did do the tourist thing and take a group photo in front of the sign-board but then we spent some individual time in the garden before coming together in a circle for a moment of collective mediation and connection with the spirit of the previous generation of Earth Protectors who held their protest here and stood firm through thick and thin. Ben produced a singing bowl which rang clear and true and filled the air with its pure tone and Euan spoke some words to invoke the spirit of the place. A truly magical moment after riding through the glorious countryside for five days before plunging on into the heart of the beast.

About 18 of us riding after we picked up the three waiting from Thatcham

The weather was dry and eventually slightly sunny with not much of a wind in the morning, the route took us over the heaths past Aldermaston and Burghfield Atomic Weapons Research Establishment surrounded with razor wire fencing and buildings tucked among the trees. 

60 years ago this Easter the first CND march from Aldermaston to Trafalgar Square took place, the previous year (1958) the Direct Action Committee had marched from Trafalgar Square to Aldermaston over Easter weekend. Another connection with previous NVDA campaigns.

Quiet roads, but after Burghfield Reading hove into view on the port bow and the landscape entered the rural urban transition zone.

Crossing the M4 we paused for a group panorama as it felt like we were entering a different world. Through a modern “green” business park in deserted Sunday mode the route now took us alongside a very busy feeder road (A33) into Reading itself. Suddenly we emerged into a consumerist nightmare – the Kennet River bank had acquired a concrete neon glass steel clothe with every brand shop and fast food outlet crammed alongside and bursting with people intent on making their Sunday worship at these temples of vacuous greed. 

The place just away from this main drag where we had arranged to meet some Reading Rebels and new riders turned out to be closed so we plunged back into the melee and piled our bikes against the railings, thus attracting the attention of the security “guards” for this private public space, and dispersed to sample the appalling ranges of disgusting industrial food on offer for lunch.

40km down , but still at least 70km to go and time was getting on.

This, of course all took time, so it was even later than planned when we hit the road out of Reading and promptly lost both navigation systems and ourselves. Eventually local knowledge from some of the new riders joining dug us out of this hell-hole and put us on track for Windsor – we had reluctantly decided to blow out the planned stop at Grow Heathrow as there simply was not time. With the Reading riders joining we were up to about 25 on the road, a couple only coming for a few miles to guide us out of town.

After a stretch of main road (if this is quiet Sunday traffic as we were told by locals I’d hate to be here during the working week) we took the slightly quieter B3024 towards Windsor. There were still more cars than we had been enjoying though and they were bigger and better polished and worse driven than back home – every time I visit the South East I am appalled by how crowded and busy and filled with rush and sound and fury it all is – how the hell do we expect to stop this in its tracks and turn it around, the people all seem too intent on their purposes to have a moment to reflect on what they are doing and what they are destroying.

It was about 4pm by the time we had covered the thirty kilometres to Windsor, we stopped around a cafe by the river beneath the castle to grab a cuppa and regroup. With such a size of group it gets much slower having to crossing intersections and dealing with junctions – even on cycle paths every crossing point potentially splits the group. After some discussion we decided to go for the easiest routing option and hit the Grand Union Canal towpath as soon as possible as once we were on it there were no further junctions or directions needed until Paddington. 40km still to go – we would be unlikely to make it by 6pm.

This seemed like an even better idea as we left Windsor and rode through Eton and promptly split into three groups with the back two totally lost. Much waiting around and telephoned instructions to try and regroup and we did eventually get back together in Upton Court Park after crossing the M4. Thence it was a short ride through streets to the canal.

The downside of this choice quickly became apparent, the path is rough; not loose gravel but compacted and very bumpy. In wet weather it would be nasty, fortunately the week without rain meant it was merely uncomfortable – very uncomfortable. For mile after mile.

Short sections were development had paid to improve the path were a blessed relief, but they seemed few and far between. 

Crossing the GU canal at the point where the Paddington Branch splits off – not quite the whole group as we were pretty spread out along the path.

Shortly after the canal divides there was a section where the path was being improved and a temporary floating path had been laid on the canal – a different sort of bumpy for a few hundred metres and then we were on the tarmac. From there it was pretty much good surface the rest of the way. Still 20km to go and it seemed never-ending. 

A cold Easterly head wind had got up to add to the general tiredness and the miles dragged on. Personally I was pretty knackered by this stage as well as getting cold, eventually I was forced to dismount by a steep hump-back bridge as the path crossed a tributary and used the opportunity to find my gloves which helped a bit.

Very few photos today as for me it was more about route finding in the morning and then relentless pedal turning in the afternoon.

Finally we closed on the railway and then veered away to Paddington Basin. A section of about a dozen riders regrouped at this point – now after 7:30pm and some riders with 10 miles more to ride to their digs in Streatham or Hackney split off rather than going to the park. Marguerite led us through the streets to an entrance to the park where a small group of XR people welcomed us, including Paul M up from Cornwall as a Legal Observer – a familiar face in a strange land. We rode on looking for the action but it had pretty much finished as it was now 8:15pm. A cluster of tents a bit away from Marble Arch was our end point – there some of the Southampton riders who were camping greeted us with hugs.

With a slight sense of anti-climax as we had missed making a grand entrance, but also anticipation for the morrow, we mounted once more for a short ride in the gloaming to find the place we were staying.

We had made it. 7 days of riding, about 590km (370 miles), starting and finishing at pretty much sea level with over 3000m of ascent, about 35km of bumpy canal towpath, 3 punctures across the group, 3 left Falmouth , 22 arrived in London and about 30 or 40 more joined in for parts of the ride. Average speed overall about 14km/hr.

Tell the Truth and act as if it is real.

The truth about the eco-climate emergency that we face is that if the earth is to remain largely human-habitable then we need to stop burning fossil fuels.

If this is real then to get from Cornwall to London we will have to walk (Earth Marchers), use simple machines (eg bicycles) while we can maintain them, or animal power. This can be done as the Earth Marchers and Rebel Riders have shown.

Another world is possible if you choose to make it happen.

 

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